Environmental campaigners, the London mayor and a host of London councils are taking the government to the Court of Appeal over plans to build a third runway at Heathrow.

Environmental Groups Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, the London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and five local authorities based in West London where noise pollution will be worst are among those challenging the government’s decision to build a third runway at Heathrow.

John Mcdonnel, the shadow chancellor, who has long been a vocal critic of the new runway, believes the situation has changed since the Theresa May’s government introduced legislation to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and declared a climate emergency.

“I think legislatively things have moved and politically, with the current campaigning by Extinction Rebellion, the pressure is on all politicians to recognise this is a project that cannot stand,” McDonnell said in a statement.

The Court of Appeal will hear the challenges, being led by Friends of the Earth on climate grounds, over five days. In his opening statement, David Wolfe QC for Friends of the Earth told the court that Chris Grayling who was transport secretary when the runway was approved by parliament, had not taken into account the 2015 Paris climate agreement to which the government is legally bound to implement.

Grayling, argued Wolfe, approved the project within the existing legal targets of an 80% reduction of carbon targets by 2050. Now the Climate Change Act has been amended and requires a 100% reduction in emissions by 2050, meaning the expansion goes against the government’s own climate goals.

Judges will also hear arguments from the World Wide Fund for Nature that the third runway will violate the UN convention on the rights of children and future generations, as they will be the ones that bear the brunt of the climate crisis.

Then there will also be a coalition of west London local authorities, including Wandsworth, Richmond upon Thames, Hillingdon, Hammersmith and Fulham and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead who along with the mayor of London will ague that minsters did not properly consider the noise levels and effects on the health of local residents that a third runway at Heathrow will bring.

Too Expensive to Justify

Even Willie Walsh, the chief executive of International Airlines Group, which owns British Airways, has said that he doesn’t think the project will go ahead in the current climate of environmental protest and that it is any case too expensive to justify.

The third runway has a price tag of $14 billion, but like many other large infrastructure projects in the UK, including Crossrail and HS2, that is expected to rise to more than $30 billion. If the runway is built it will involve demolishing almost 800 homes, building one of the biggest car parks in the world and moving part of the M25.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which advises the government on the issue, has warned the government that by 2050 aviation will be the biggest source of emissions in the UK.  

The CCC has also warned the government that demand for flights and flights themselves must be curtailed and limited by then and that if a third runway is built at Heathrow then this would mean that UK airports outside London would have almost no room for growth.

However, a spokesperson for Heathrow Airport batted off the threat of the legal action halting the project.

“Judicial reviews are common in infrastructure projects of this size. Our plans remain on track and we will support the Department for Transport throughout this process. We remain totally confident in the robust process that has got us to this point, including the extensive evidence gathered by the independent Airports Commission, multiple rounds of public consultation and the overwhelming cross-party support of parliament,” the spokesperson insisted.

Past court cases against the airport’s expansion have not been successful and in May the High Court dismissed four separate cases brought against the development by local authorities, residents, the Mayor of London and Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

Grant Shapps, the current transport secretary, has said that he is looking at the figures of the third runway to see if they still stack up.

Edward Cowley